Meta Watch: On Bait and Switch, Errata, and the Future of Keyforge

Meta Watch: On Bait and Switch, Errata, and the Future of Keyforge

Oh, Bait and Switch. Since the release of Keyforge this card has been the subject of numerous debates regarding the balance and health of the game. The formation of the meta game at the local, national, and international levels has certainly shown it to be powerful. Evidently, powerful enough for Fantasy Flight to issue an errata completely transforming the way the card functions. Certainly a pretty sizeable nerf to the card. Much could be discussed about the errata itself, whether it is the right change to make or if a change was even needed. I want to focus more on the implications of the change. What it means for future errata and for the future of Keyforge in general.

First, what are errata anyway? Purely online CCGs like Hearthstone have the benefit of being able to simply re-balance cards with an update patch to change their text for everyone all at once. Printed card games, however, aren’t afforded that luxury. In print, errata are essentially a way for developers to patch unforeseen consequences of particular cards after they have already been printed and it is too late to actually change the text. Errata provide new text that players should consider as the official text on the card, rather than what is written. Obviously, this situation is not ideal as requiring players to remember different text for numerous cards is not only frustrating for experienced players, but a huge barrier to entry for those new to the game. Due to these nuances, errata are typically reserved to deal with only the most extreme unexpected combos, confusions over wording, or game-breaking power imbalances. With errata, there is always a question of where to draw the line. At what point is something so impactful that it necessitates an immediate change rather than slowly letting the meta game adapt by adding answers into later card sets?

Yesterday morning Fantasy Flight released errata for two cards that had long been the subject of much debate: Library Access and Bait and Switch. The words written on these physical cards are no longer relevant and it should be treated as if the new text is written on the card. For those who missed it, the new text of Library Access reads, “Play: For the remainder of the turn, each time you play another card, draw a card. Purge Library Access.” In addition, Bait and Switch now reads, “Play: If your opponent has more æmber than you, steal 1 æmber. Repeat the preceding effect if your opponent still has more æmber than you.” Notably, this wording caps out at stealing two aember.

A clear line can be drawn to justify the first of these errata. The stated reason for the Library Access change is because of the impact the extremely powerful Library Access + Nepenthe Seed and Library Access + Reverse Time combos had on the meta game and more importantly the player experience. Due to the sheer amount of time it took to perform the combo, Fantasy Flight considered it a detriment to overall game enjoyment and saw it fit to errata one of the cards to remove the combo from the game. Fantasy Flight has a clear justification for changing this card: the amount of time it takes to do the combo and the ability to forge all three keys in a single turn. Most importantly, these justifications do not apply to any other cards in the game. There is no other card or combo of cards that leads to the same detrimental experience and so it is easy for Fantasy Flight to draw the line as to why Library Access deserves an erratum vs. other card draw effects in the game.

Although, the choice to errata Bait and Switch and more importantly, the justification for doing so seems less clearly motivated. Fantasy Flight’s stated reason is because of the dominance of the shadows house among CotA decks, explaining that by nerfing Bait and Switch, they hope to weaken the shadows house overall and allow for more diversity with in the competitive scene. While it is nearly undeniable that shadows is the strongest house in the CotA set, I’m not convinced that this is entirely because of Bait and Switch. Cards like Too Much to Protect, The Sting, and Interdimensional Graft can cause similar swings in aember (the latter isn’t even in shadows!) and many would argue that the biggest strength in shadows isn’t the potential for huge swings, but the sum of all the instances of aember steal like Urchin, Routine Job, Umbra, Noddy the Thief, etc. to keep the opponent off of keys while simultaneously building your own aember pool. The strength of shadows isn’t in a single steal effect, but rather the efficiency and prevalence of steal effects in general. Nerfing one card does little to change that.

This leaves many players asking why Bait and Switch but not Too Much to Protect or The Sting? The decision for this change could set a dangerous precedent for using errata to make balance tweaks in the future. How many more cards will Fantasy Flight need to errata to bring shadows in line with the other houses in CotA decks? More than the Library Access change, the change to Bait and Switch feels difficult to clearly explain without indicting cards with similar effects.

It’s very possible that this is all just overreacting and that the new set will bring a lot of cool answers to shadows in CotA, eliminating the need for any further errata. But if it doesn’t, Fantasy Flight may be faced with a difficult choice: continue issuing errata for powerful CotA cards, or risk the new set being noticeably weaker (and noticeably worse-selling) than the first. In the end, only time will tell. Until then, I’m excited to get my hands on some new cards and see what the new set has to offer. Happy forging folks!

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